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Posts Tagged ‘shelley

“I have never met a vampire personally, but I don’t know what might happen tomorrow”*…

 

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Readers will know of the evening in 1816, on the shores of Lake Geneva, when a challenge from her husband-to-be and his friend Lord Byron led Mary Shelley (then, Mary Godwin) to create Frankenstein.  What’s less well known is that this same challenge led another guest to create that other great figure of 19th-century gothic fiction – the vampire.

The first fully realized vampire story in English, John William Polidori’s “The Vampyre”… establishes the vampire as we know it via a reimagining of the feral mud-caked creatures of southeastern European legend as the elegant and magnetic denizens of cosmopolitan assemblies and polite drawing rooms.

“The Vampyre” is a product of 1816, the “year without summer,” in which Lord Byron left England in the wake of a disintegrating marriage and rumours of incest, sodomy and madness, to travel to the banks of Lake Geneva and there loiter with Percy and Mary Shelley (then still Mary Godwin). Polidori served as Byron’s traveling physician, and played an active role in the summer’s tensions and rivalries, as well as participating in the famous night of ghost stories that produced Mary Shelley’s “hideous progeny,” Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.

Like Frankenstein, “The Vampyre” draws extensively on the mood at Byron’s Villa Diodati. But whereas Mary Shelley incorporated the orchestral thunderstorms that illuminated the lake and the sublime mountain scenery that served as a backdrop to Victor Frankenstein’s struggles, Polidori’s text is woven from the invisible dynamics of the Byron-Shelley circle, and especially the humiliations he suffered at Byron’s hand…

Find the rest of this twisted tale (if not eternal life) at “The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire.”

* Bela Lugosi

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As we make the Sign of the Cross, we might send metrical birthday greetings to Samuel Taylor Coleridge; he was born on this date in 1772.  A poet, literary critic, and philosopher, Coleridge is probably best remembered for two poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, and for his prose work Biographia Literaria.  Coleridge and his dear friend (and partner in founding the Romantic Movement) Wordsworth were contemporaries of Byron– who went out of his way to insult them in Canto III of Don Juan.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 21, 2014 at 1:01 am

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”*…

 

A fair copy draft (c. 1817) of Shelley’s “Ozymandias” in the collection of Oxford’s Bodleian Library

Shelley’s frequently-quoted and widely-influential sonnet “Ozymandius” has a history that’s arguably as interesting as the poem itself…

The banker and political writer Horace Smith spent the Christmas season of 1817–1818 with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley. At this time members of Shelley’s literary circle would sometimes challenge each other to write competing sonnets on a common subject—Shelley, John Keats and Leigh Hunt wrote competing sonnets on the Nile around the same time. Shelley and Smith chose a passage from the Greek Historian Diodorus Siculus, which described a massive Egyptian statue and quoted its inscription: “King of Kings Ozymandias am I. If any want to know how great I am and where I lie, let him outdo me in my work.” In the poem Diodorus becomes “a traveller from an antique land”.

The two poems were later published in Leigh Hunt’s The Examiner, published by Leigh’s brother John Hunt in London. (Hunt was already planning to publish a long excerpt from Shelley’s new epic The Revolt of Islam later the same month.) Shelley’s was published on 11 January 1818 under the pen name Glirastes. It appeared on page 24 in the yearly collection, under Original Poetry. Smith’s was published, along by a note signed with the initials H.S., on 1 February 1818… It was originally published under the same title as Shelley’s verse; but in later collections Smith retitled it “On A Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below”.

Comparison of the two poems

Shelley’s “Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Smith’s Ozymandias

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
“I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
“The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
“The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
The site of this forgotten Babylon.

We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

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[TotH to @bijanstephen]

* Percy Bysshe Shelley (full text of the poem here)

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As we express our gratitude that the Shelleys participated in contests, we might send comradely birthday greetings to Zhou Shuren; he was born on this date in 1881.  Better known by his pen name Lu Xun (or Lu Hsün), he was one of the foremost writers– novelist, editor, translator, literary critic, essayist, and poet– in the China of his day.  He was a major influence on the May Fourth Movement that began around 1916, and later the head of the League of Left-Wing Writers in Shanghai.  He was a favorite of Mao Zedong; but though Lu was sympathetic to Communist ideas, he was he was primarily a liberal leftist and never joined the Chinese Communist Party.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 25, 2014 at 1:01 am

Coming (Not) Soon (Enough)…

As we negotiate for the Bronte bout, we might recall that it was on this date in 1814 that Percy Bysshe Shelley eloped with then-17-year-old Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin… despite the fact that Shelley was already married.

Shelley, the heir to his wealthy grandfather’s estate, had been expelled from Oxford for refusing to acknowledge authorship of a controversial essay. He eloped with his first wife, Harriet Westbrook, the daughter of a tavern owner, in 1811. But three years later, Shelley fell in love with the young Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of a prominent reformer and early feminist writer. Shelley and Godwin fled to Europe, marrying after Shelley’s wife committed suicide in 1816.

Shelley’s inheritance did not pay all the bills, and the couple spent much of their married life abroad, fleeing Shelley’s creditors. While living in Geneva, the Shelleys and their dear friend Lord Byron challenged each other to write a compelling ghost story. Only Mary Shelley finished hers– which she later published as Frankenstein.

Mary Shelley

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